Masha Egorenko works at Parkrose Middle School through IRCO as a Slavic Community Coordinator & Youth Advocate. I’m so thankful she talked with me for the podcast! I think this chat is beneficial for anyone who feels they don’t have a great understanding of their Slavic neighbors. Keep reading for more insight and overview of our conversation, and be sure to check out the 2021 Slavic East European Center Celebration streaming live on Thursday, January 28 at 6:00 pm.
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Masha’s alma mater Lewis & Clark summed up Masha’s work well:
The Slavic community is the largest body of refugees in Oregon, and recently has been recognized by Multnomah County as a marginalized group due to it lacking the basic resources, such as linguistic and cultural services in school, that are needed for success in the United States. In light of this, she provides much-needed cultural advocacy at schools in hopes of improving the grades, social skills, and voices of Slavic students at an institutional level. Furthermore, she assists families with attaining basic services, such as document translation, methods for school involvement, housing, clothes, and food assistance, immigration paperwork, and more.
Masha grew up in Slyudyanka, which is on the shore of Lake Baikal in Siberia (Russia). Her family moved to Los Angeles before she came to Oregon for college, and she was pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant Slavic community here. Masha shared that Russian is the third most-spoken language in Oregon after English and Spanish.
We went over the history of Slavic people immigrating to Oregon including perestroika (reform) emigration policies that enabled people in the Soviet Union to move more freely. Susan W. Hardwick, professor emerita at the University of Oregon, writes:
The diaspora of Russian-speaking evangelicals to the United States began with changes in both Soviet emigration policies and in U.S. refugee policies. First was the surprising 1988 policy change supported by the first and last president of the former Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, that allowed Russians to emigrate from their homeland for the first time since the Russian Revolution. The passage of this surprising new legislation, the efforts of the religious right in the United States to secure “refugee status” for Russian Baptists and Pentecostals, and a well-organized refugee resettlement system and evangelical church networks in the region resulted in a veritable flood of Russian evangelical Christians arriving in northern California, Oregon, and Washington in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Oregon and Washington added more new migrants born in Russia and Ukraine than any other part of the country between 1990 and 2005. Attracted by sponsors affiliated with Christian fundamentalist church congregations, a network of well-organized social service and refugee resettlement agencies, and a physical environment that resembles their homeland, Russian and Ukrainian Baptists, Pentecostals, and Seventh Day Adventists combined are now by far the largest refugee group in Oregon. About 40 percent of the more than one hundred thousand Slavic people who live in the region are from Ukraine. Others were born in Russia, Belarus, or other republics that formerly made up the Soviet Union.
As an advocate for Slavic families, Masha talks about the importance of language and translation services, cultural awareness in our schools and government, and honoring credit transfers from classes taken in other countries. She shares there can be misunderstandings and collisions between families and school policies, for example, faith-based Slavic families having concerns about sex education at Parkrose High School. Her colleague was able to be an intermediary and help both parties come up with a solution for those students.
We also talk about ethnic identity, tension between former Soviet Union nationalities, and how Americans can be more aware of terminology and not assume that every Slavic person is Russian.
If you’re interested in connecting more with the Slavic community in Portland, you might check out the articles linked to above and:
Slavic Family Media Center
Portland Slavic Festival
City of Portland’s Slavic Empowerment Team
IRCO Slavic and Eastern European Center